Halloween Extravaganza: INTERVIEW: Chris Bauer

Meghan: Hi, Chris. Welcome to Meghan’s House of Books. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Chris Bauer: Philly guy. Was corporate middle management at some blue chips: Ford Motor, Exxon, MetLife. I’m old-ish. First published at age 57. I love reading thrillers, mysteries, crime stories, noir, dark humor, so this is what I write. I’ve had some very irreverent short stories published; among them: “You’re a Moron,” noir, thuglit; “Zombie Chimps from Mars,” horror, Shroud.

Meghan: What are five things most people don’t know about you?

Chris Bauer:

1) I played rugby. My position on the team—hooker—is a lot like a center in football. It’s a good conversation starter. “ I used to be a hooker.” Raised-eyes responses can push the conversation in some interesting directions.

2) I once passed for Chip Douglas (Stanley Livingston) of My Three Sons 1960s TV fame on the Wildwood, NJ boardwalk. I contacted Stanley about it. He ignored me.

3) One of my short stories, “You’re A Moron,” was podcasted, as in read/performed by an actor. The podcast was downloaded over 100,000 times. True fact. Don’t get excited. The downloads were/are free. A good short story nonetheless.

4) “Beach house?” This is my wife’s response whenever I tell her of a writing milestone, as in my first pubbed short story, first agent, debut novel, first advance, first multi-book deal. The best we’ve been able to do with the spoils from any of these accomplishments is rent a condo on the beach where you could actually see the water.

5) I’m 6’2”.

Bonus “thing you should know”: 6) I lie a lot.

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

Chris Bauer: Something in the Tom Swift series of middle grade sci-fi books first published in the early 20th century. I can’t remember which one. Pure camp. Written by Victor Appleton, which was a pseudonym for a bevvy of writers. The series originated a writing taboo known as the “Tom Swifty,” or “punning wordplay heavy on adverbs.” (Example: “That’s a lot of hay,” Tom said balefully.)

Meghan: What are you reading now?

Chris Bauer: Wool by Hugh Howey, post-apocalyptic, dystopian. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson.

Meghan: What’s a book you really enjoyed that others wouldn’t expect you to have liked?

Chris Bauer: Fessin’ up big time here: I LIKED THE DA VINCI CODE. There, I said it. So many people say it’s poorly written. For me it was a pure adrenalin rush. DO NOT JUDGE ME.

Meghan: What made you decide you want to write?

Chris Bauer: I don’t know. Maybe I always wanted to write, from back in my days at Penn State when my English professor decided to read to us from his porn novel. I suppose it comes from enjoying the escapism one gets from reading fiction. It put that one twinkle in my eye — “Hey, I can do that!” — that was really a piece of dirt I should have washed out soon as it got in there. As they say, writing is a blessing and a curse, but I can’t not write. God help me.

Meghan: When did you begin writing?

Chris Bauer: In my early forties. My family and I were suffering through a difficult, life-changing corporate takeover that almost relocated me from the east coast (Connecticut) to the Pacific Northwest (Portland, OR). I wrote a novel about it; it was my first attempt at creative writing in any capacity. It’s in a drawer somewhere. I’m glad I didn’t accept the relocation package. I would have become a leper out there because the acquiring company eventually went bankrupt as a direct result of the acquisition of my company.

Meghan: Do you have a special place you like to write?

Chris Bauer: On my large screen iMac in the fourth bedroom of the house. To my left, a torn forty-year-old leather couch in burgundy. My old iMac sits on a beat-up corporate mahogany exec desk with candy in the top drawer, the desk on an Oriental rug spread on top of some standard carpet. My “Buddy Jesus” figurine statue from the movie Dogma is always there to give me a smiley-faced, back-at-you thumbs up and eye wink. Various Philly trinkets sit on a window ledge. Ever hear of a pimple ball? It’s a Philly thing from the fifties-sixties. You can look it up.

Meghan: Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

Chris Bauer: Up by four a.m. seven days a week to write. COFFEE. Compose/research in the morning, trash two-thirds of what I wrote by the afternoon, critique the work of peer writers in the evening because I usually hate everything I’m critiquing by then, and I’d rather my writer friends feel that wrath than lose most of what I’ve written for the day.

Meghan: Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

Chris Bauer: Anything with a deadline. Early on I had the luxury of writing at my own pace, dreaming of the day when I might close a deal. Careful what your wish for. Ignorance is bliss. Once the pen hits the contract: “Hey, this writing shit is hard!”

Meghan: What’s the most satisfying thing you’ve written so far?

Chris Bauer: The political thriller Jane’s Baby (Intrigue Publishing, 2018). It deals with a present day what-if question regarding the 1973 Roe v Wade landmark US Supreme Court decision about women’s reproductive rights. The byline is “Whatever happened to Jane Roe’s baby?” The short answer is in real life the litigant Norma McCorvey’s pregnancy wasn’t terminated. Her baby, a girl, was born and was subject to a closed adoption, neither side ever knowing the identity of the other. What if this child learned who she was later in life (she’d be in her late forties now), after she gained some career prominence and notice on the national scene? What if someone planned all this? Ebook, paperback, audiobook.

Meghan: What books have most inspired you?

Chris Bauer: Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem. The movie starring Edward Norton was released November 1, 2019. I have two novels with major characters afflicted with Tourette syndrome. Lethem does an incredible job with his protagonist Lionel Essrog in this novel. I also love the baseball novel Chance by Steve Shilstone. Great voice.

Meghan: Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?

Chris Bauer: Shilstone, specifically because of his Chance baseball novel. Written in the first person. What a writing voice!

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

Chris Bauer: I like genre fiction best, with all its mainstays: tension, conflict, action, crisp dialogue, uniqueness of plot, twists, twists and more twists, and salt-of-the-earth characters. I don’t look for it to be literary, it just needs to keep me wanting to turn the page.

Meghan: What does it take for you to love a character?

Chris Bauer: Protagonists can be from any walk of life: blue collar, professional, priests, nuns, cops, military. They will be hard working, flawed, and have taken some hard knocks, and the storyline thrusts them into action. They’re also usually self-deprecating while a bit narcissistic. Sidekicks must be colorful and memorable, distinctive. They all will be a little over the top, to take the reader into territory that allows the escapism all readers covet: show me a world, an event, and people I don’t usually see.

Meghan: How do you utilize that when creating your characters?

Chris Bauer: The storyline/plot is key, and it is the first thing that needs development, then I build the characters around it.

Meghan: Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

Chris Bauer: A number of them. Okay-fine, I see myself in many of my heroes. But “is” might not be the correct verb to use; “was” is more appropriate, considering their ages. In Binge Killer, it would be bounty hunter Counsel Fungo, even though she’s female. Her Catholic school upbringing, like mine, cried for rebellion, and rebel she did. In Scars on the Face of God it would be Wump Hozer, the aging church custodian. In Jane’s Baby it’s another bounty hunter, retired Marine Judge Drury. In Hiding Among the Dead, it would be protagonist crime scene cleaner and bare-knuckle boxer Philo Trout.

Meghan: Are you turned off by a bad cover? To what degree were you involved in creating your book covers?

Chris Bauer: Yes, I’m immensely turned off by bad covers, as most authors are, because book covers go a long way toward selling the book. I’m always granted final approval, front and back, but the only cover I had significant creative front-end input on was Jane’s Baby. I found a photo of the print copy of the original real-life Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision that was autographed by one of the arguing attorneys, Sarah Weddington. If you look closely at the cover, you can see her handwritten first name. I thought it was a nice touch.

Meghan: What have you learned creating your books?

Chris Bauer: Good beta readers are like gold, as are good peer critiquers. I’ve also validated some writing tropes. “Writing is a lonely endeavor.” “You won’t get rich.” “Enter (a scene) late, leave early.” “Read your work aloud” for clarity, pitch, cadence, etc. “If you write drunk, edit sober.” “Don’t kill the cat.” Going against the last one effectively ruined one of my chances at signing with perhaps the largest independent publisher out there. Ouch. (Six the Cat is now alive and well and debuted in Hiding Among the Dead.)

Meghan: What has been the hardest scene for you to write so far?

Chris Bauer: A few were extremely hard. In Hiding Among the Dead, the opening scene was difficult: suicide by train involving an undocumented immigrant mother and her two children, one an infant. Very graphic but necessary, or so I tell myself. In Binge Killer, the final scene might be the single most graphic scene of any book released in 2019. I had to decide if I was going there. Again, necessary. In a novel yet to be sold, HOP SKIP JUMP, about reincarnation, and what might happen if a person returned to a place where she was needed the most, I have some cathartic scenes about a character losing her mother early, when the child was an infant. It’s something my wife experienced, and I will never be able to do justice to it, but I wanted to try. A lot of the novel made me cry while writing it.

Meghan: What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?

Chris Bauer: One, I’m not afraid of writing genre novels utilizing controversial current issues. See Jane’s Baby. The second novel in the series, currently titled AMERICA IS A GUN, will deal with gun control. Two, I call myself a “brute force novelist” and my byline is “The thing I write will be the thing I write.” It’s a take it or leave it proposition that might be a little self-serving, but it effectively recognizes that I attempt to write scenes and dialogue that come right at the reader and do not to pull punches. More along the lines of Elmore Leonard, if I can be so bold as to include my name in a paragraph with his name in it.

Meghan: How important is the book title, how hard is it to choose the best one, and how did you choose yours (of course, with no spoilers)?

Chris Bauer: Binge Killer became a community decision, one of a few titles I suggested to the publisher and which we agreed on. A play on serial killer. This drifter kills a number of people in one day and night during a last hurrah for himself. An out-of-towner looking to soil a small town’s admirable reputation of no reported major crimes in over fifty years. This is the first of my published novels that the title was not entirely my decision, but I’m plenty good with it.

Meghan: What makes you feel more fulfilled: Writing a novel or writing a short story?

Chris Bauer: Novels are a marathon, short stories a sprint. I’ve written, or am in WIP status of, probably the same number of each (seven?). Both have their moments, but IMO a good short story is actually the tougher of the two to get right. Fulfillment-wise, however, I feel more satisfaction in completing a novel. I love pulling together the puzzle, love producing a story with multiple moving points that all need solutioning.

Meghan: Tell us a little bit about your books, your target audience, and what you would like readers to take away from your stories.

Chris Bauer: In Binge Killer (October 2019) a female bounty hunter squares off against a maniacal killer in a small town that just wants to be left alone and is mostly made up of bowlers, bingo players, and quilters. Mostly. Neo-noir, mystery, dark humor.

Hiding Among the Dead (May 2019) is the first in a series about commercial crime scene cleaners bumping up against the underbelly of organized crime. The second book in the series is due out 2020. Mystery, thriller, dark humor.

Jane’s Baby (2018) is a political thriller that attempts to answer the question whatever happened to Jane Roe’s baby of Roe v. Wade infamy. It’s the first in a series that will deal with controversial modern day social issues. The second in the series, AMERICA IS A GUN, another political thriller with crimes involving lax gun control, is looking for a home because of its controversial nature. Thriller, legal fiction, political fiction.

Scars on the Face of God (re-released May 2019) is a standalone biblical horror novel set in the 1960s involving a real-life 13th century manuscript called The Devil’s Bible currently on display in the royal library of Sweden. It asks the question, if the Devil wrote a bible, what would be in it, and how might a small Pennsylvania Dutch town be impacted if this blasphemous manuscript were discovered in the attic of an orphanage, AND they felt that it foretold the advent of the anti-Christ. Horror/thriller, religious fiction.

Regarding what I want my readers to take away from my novels, I want only that they be entertained—by the story, the characters, the humor, and the sentiment.

Meghan: Can you tell us about some of the deleted scenes/stuff that got left out of your work?

Chris Bauer: Binge Killer entered the editing process and left with all its original scenes intact, but one of the publisher’s content editors suggested a significant enhancement that really increased the stakes, so we added it. In Hiding Among the Dead, we removed a storyline that will appear in a later novel. The scenes deleted and the subplot they related to just needed a different home.

Meghan: What can we expect from you in the future?

Chris Bauer: A follow-up novel to Hiding Among the Dead, tentatively titled HER TWELVE-LETTER ALPHABET, which is set in Hawaii on the only Hawaiian island that is privately owned. Will release 2020.

I will finish up AMERICA IS A GUN, a novel with many of the same characters who appeared in Jane’s Baby. This will involve the art world, the dark web, bitcoin, and the gun lobby. No publisher yet, but I am hopeful.

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Chris Bauer:

Website ** Facebook ** Twitter ** Goodreads

Meghan: Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you’d like to say that we didn’t get to cover in this interview?

Chris Bauer: Friend me on Facebook! Follow me on Twitter! Buy my books! Read them! Review them on Amazon, Goodreads, everywhere! Tell your friends! Repeat! (I am judicious in my use of exclamation marks when writing my fiction. Here, I’m indulging myself.)

“The thing I write will be the thing I write.”

Chris wouldn’t trade his northeast Philly upbringing of street sports played on blacktop and concrete, fistfights, brick and stone row houses, and twelve years of well-intentioned Catholic school discipline for a Philadelphia minute (think New York minute but more fickle and less forgiving). Chris has had some lengthy stops as an adult in Michigan and Connecticut, and he thinks Pittsburgh is a great city even though some of his fictional characters do not. He still does most of his own stunts, and he once passed for Chip Douglas of My Three Sons TV fame on a Wildwood, NJ boardwalk. He’s a member of International Thriller Writers, and his work has been recognized by the National Writers Association, the Writers Room of Bucks County (PA), and the Maryland Writers Association. He likes the pie more than the turkey. You can find him online here.

Binge Killer

A female bounty hunter tracks a maniacal killer to a town in rural Pennsylvania. 

A town with its own dark secret… 

Counsel Fungo is a unique woman. An experienced bounty hunter, she’s very good at her job. You don’t have to ask. She’ll tell you. Officially, her two canine companions are her therapy dogs. Unofficially, she considers them to be her partners. Counsel has suffered intense loss and was once the victim of a horrible crime. But now these experiences drive her unquenchable thirst for justice. And she’ll do anything to stop criminals from preying on the vulnerable.

Randall Burton is a serial killer and a rapist. Diagnosed with a terminal disease, he has jumped bail and intends to go out in a blaze of glory. He heads to sleepy Rancor, Pennsylvania, named one of the “Safest Towns in America,” for one last, depraved, hurrah. A quiet town tucked away in the Poconos, its citizens are mostly widowers, bowlers, and bingo players. Mostly.

There’s a reason no one in Rancor has reported a major crime in the past 50 years. And neither Counsel nor the killer are quite ready for what this town has in store…

Hiding Among the Dead

Philo Trout: 
Retired Navy SEAL.
Former bare-knuckles boxer.
Current crime scene cleaner.

Philo Trout just wanted to start over.

He moved to Philadelphia to keep his past a secret. His new life as a crime scene cleaner is quiet—until he discovers that many of his “clients” are coming up short on their organ count.

As Philo tries to outrun his past, a coworker can’t remember his own. Patrick was found brutally beaten, and is now an amnesiac as a result. When the connection between his coworker’s history and missing organs begins to emerge, Philo is determined to solve the puzzle.

The trail of clues leads Philo into a dark conspiracy. A brutal organization will stop at nothing to protect their secret. And Philo’s past as a fighter might be his only route to the truth…

If he can survive that long.

Jane’s Baby

Whatever happened to Jane Roe’s baby? Norma McCorvey, of Caddo-Comanche heritage, did not terminate the pregnancy that led her to become the anonymous plaintiff of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court women’s rights case Roe v Wade because in 1971, when the motion was first argued, abortion in the U.S. was illegal. The Jane Roe real-life child would now be a woman in her late forties, the potential of her polarizing celebrity unknown to her. A religious rights splinter group has blackmailed its way into learning the identity of the Roe baby, the product of a closed adoption. To what end, only a new Supreme Court case will reveal. Tourette’s-afflicted K9 bounty hunter Judge Drury, a retired Marine, stands in the way of the splinter group’s attempt at stacking the Supreme Court via blackmail, murder, arson, sleight of hand, and secret identities.

Scars on the Face of God

The year is 1964. A construction project in the town of Three Bridges, Pennsylvania unearths an ancient sewer. Inside is a mystery dating to the 19th century: the hidden skeletons of countless infants.

As the secrets of Three Bridges begin to surface, an ancient codex is discovered in the attic of a local orphanage. A bible containing writings in Lucifer’s own hand.

The parish priest and a church handyman set out to discover the truth. But a series of strange visions and horrifying tragedies begin, and the darkest secret of all becomes clear:

The town of Three Bridges is marked, and the Devil is coming out to play.

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